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Nuclear pharmacy is a specialty area of pharmacy practice dedicated to the compounding and dispensing of radioactive materials for use in nuclear medicine procedures.  A specialty area of pharmacy practice is one that requires a concentration of knowledge in a once specific area.  The development of nuclear pharmacy as a specialty area followed the development of nuclear medicine as a recognized specialty by the American Medical Association in the early 1970’s.

Prior to discussing the field of nuclear pharmacy, it is important to understand some background regarding radioactivity and how it is used in patients.  Most people hear the word radiation, and immediately have an image of danger or injury.  However, most people do not realize that there is radiation in everyone’s lives in many different forms.  Electromagnetic radiation is emitted from the sun, from signals sent from radio and TV stations, from radar used to track airplanes, and even visible light.  In this particular field, we are interested in a type of radiation termed radionuclides.  A radionuclide is an atom that has an unstable nucleus.  Recalling chemistry, the nucleus of an atom consists of protons and neutrons.  If a nucleus, for whatever reason, has an excess of either one of these constituents, it will try to “get rid of” the excess component and return to a stable state.  By doing so, the atom is said to give off this energy in the form of radiation.  There are quite a few naturally occurring radionuclides.  Any nuclide with an atomic number greater than 83 is radioactive.  An atom’s atomic number is simply the total number of protons found in the nucleus.  There are also many naturally occurring radionuclides with lower atomic numbers.

While some radionuclides occur naturally in the environment, there is another class of “man-made” or artificial radionuclides.  Artificial radionuclides are generally produced in a cyclotron or some other particle accelerator, in which we bombard a stable nucleus with specific particles (neutrons, protons, electrons or some combination of these).  By doing so, we make the nucleus of our starting material unstable, and this nucleus will then try to become stable by emitting radioactivity.




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